Often, without warning, my dog bolts around the house at great speed for seemingly no good reason. It’s a different type of motion to the playful, leaping run when he’s outside on a walk. This is a frenzied sprint, ears back with the force of his speed. He’ll tear back and forth along the hallway, or invent his own circuit, over sofas, under coffee tables, onto chairs, as we watch, wincing, fearful that he’ll crash into something. It’s a frenzy, but it appears to be an exhilarating, joyful outburst that he relishes. Then, it’s over.
As 2013 came to an end, I felt something like my dog must in one of those moments. It was as though the gales that have battered us on and off for the last couple of weeks had given birth to a storm of inspiration and creative energy. In the last ten days of the year I wrote two short stories, entered two competitions, created five pages for my blog, wrote two blog posts, completed a painting, defined my creative goals for the year and incubated ideas for three new stories. In the midst of my own creations, I devoured the creations of others: movies, books, music, diaries. The first few weeks in December were a fallow period for me. As usual, I didn’t worry about that, and this was my reward – a creative maelstrom.
I love periods like these. The level of creativity I experienced isn’t commonplace. It may happen only a few times a year as strongly as this and that’s probably just as well, as I couldn’t sustain it all year round. Because as well as the joy of it, there’s also a kind of insanity. My mind jumps from one thing to another – composing a story in my head while trying to read, pausing to write something in my notebook, turning on the laptop to capture something. Just as my dog tears around the house – fast, focused, steely – so my creative brain is engaged. I don’t want to sleep, because I want to do more. I’ve written and I’ve painted but I still want to cram in a movie and some reading before bed.
I reaped the rewards of the fertile darkness, when I embraced the dark weeks after Halloween to conjure my dreams. Those dreams were born from the midwinter solstice and the midwinter storms. Like the act of birth itself – messy, painful, joyous, chaotic – so my dreams for the year have been born and started making themselves felt, like babies screaming for sustenance. The maelstrom is difficult to resist or to retreat from. And I don’t want to retreat – I’d happily drown in it. The only way to approach it is to surrender to the current until eventually it subsides, as it will. Because just as there will always be another fallow period, there will always be another maelstrom. Dizzying, wonderful, fast, frenzied and productive, but fleeting.
And then, just before the year ticked over into the new one, the storm abated. New Year’s Day brought a new moon, usually a time for optimism and new projects, but for me, new moons are often challenging. I was left restless, the excitement of creation gone and a feeling of emptiness in its place. But this is another lesson in how to use those cycles of creativity – the harder work is what to do with the fruits of the maelstrom once it’s over.
I write this with a black eye and half my face swollen to twice it’s normal size, mouth drooping in the way it did when I had Bell’s palsy as a child. This isn’t the result of a new year punch-up, but of a rare reaction to something much more prosaic – a root canal. I’ve begun 2014 confined to the house, loaded with painkillers and dodging pain. It hasn’t been conducive to creativity. But perhaps it has been a necessary counterpoint to the maelstrom that ended the last year, a period of enforced rest that will help me to hone the ideas that came up in the storm more effectively.
There are only four weeks remaining of the time I think of as the honing period, that space between the solstice and Candlemas (Imbolc), when the first signs of spring tentatively appear. It’s the time when I will take hold of all those birthed ideas and refine them, so that when it comes to Candlemas, I can plan their fruition. How you hone is in the way that is best for you. For me it involves pondering, making lists, writing about them. But as with all magic, it’s about how you keep the intention within you. So, as I go on my winter walks, I’ll be looking for keepsakes that will remind me of each goal, like the sprig of ash seeds blown from the trees in the storms, objects that I can charge at Imbolc to keep these goals always in my mind.
Storms still rage around me. Large parts of the UK are flooded and all around is a flurry of new intentions. You have to go with the tempest when it strikes, but it’s not only how you weather the storm that counts. Always keep a little focus in the back of your mind, so that when it’s over, you’ve saved the treasures, not just the wreckage.